User:Woozle/My Left Wing/Revolution 2.0 Outline RFC/consensus/v1

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The question of how we make decisions is at the core of... pretty much everything. The nature of the decisionmaking process determines:

  • how satisfied individuals are with the outcome of each decision
  • how sane the actions of the group are
    • ...which greatly affects how well the group succeeds, economically and politically
  • how well the decisionmaking process is protected against hostile takeover

The Old Ways

No. 1: Religion

Joining any religious organization generally means agreeing, more or less, to support (at least outwardly) certain ideas. When those ideas are ostensibly threatened, the religious leadership knows that they can count on a certain amount of basic support from the membership, plus a core of more zealously active supporters, and little or no dissent most of the time. This makes religion a powerful force for mobilizing large numbers of people to act in coordination.

Religions, unfortunately, are based on an idea that "you must believe that these things are true, and you must believe them without any real evidence, and any evidence you may present which contradicts them is off the table for discussion" (i.e. dogma).

I don't think any of us here want to do things that way. We may say "you can't be one of us if you don't believe certain things", but we are happy to argue the evidence for the truth of those things -- and to update our belief-requirements if new evidence seems to shift the balance in favor of altering our beliefs. (This is part of why we need the "library" in the Revolutionary Bar & Library: so we have a public fact-base for our beliefs.)

Centralized authority comes with a built-in single-point failure mode: you may not be able to corrupt a thousand people, but you can certainly corrupt1 a dozen -- or one -- if the stakes are high enough.

It also comes with the built-in inefficiency of a few people trying to work out what's best for hundreds or thousands (or more), when often those individuals have been trained not to provide too much feedback (at the risk of being seen as "troublemakers" or "deviant").

No. 2: US-style Democracy

US-style democracy -- which I will refer to here as just "democracy" for the sake of brevity -- has two major shortcomings in its design... which might be seen as part of a single design philosophy which might be stated thusly: people are dangerous. I'll come back to that.

Flaw #1 is the one-binary-vote-per-issue voting system we use. If you measure a voting system's effectiveness in terms of the net error between [what people want] and [what they actually get], this is probably the worst system possible. This large degree of error makes it particularly prone to manipulations such as gerrymandering, and seems to be the largest force behind maintaining the "two-party system" duopoly we have now.

Flaw #2 is the "electoral college".

The flaw with the EC is not so much in the idea that each state's vote is cast by an individual person who may decide to go against what the majority have decided -- although that is a flaw that probably could be exploited, so far it has never happened that a "faithless elector" has changed the outcome of an election.

The actual problems with the EC are:

  1. the idea that votes need to be aggregated more than once
  2. the idea that geography is the most relevant basis on which to define the criteria for aggregation

Congressional districting includes these problems, and adds its own:

  1. the idea that aggregation should be done by criteria that are essentially arbitrary (there are no enforced criteria for appropriateness of a district)
  2. the idea that the final decision need not be subject to popular oversight (districts are drawn by party in power, not voted on)

The only justification I have been able to find for the idea of the Electoral College is this bit of text in Wikipedia: "Proponents argue that the Electoral College is an important, distinguishing feature of federalism in the United States and that it protects the rights of smaller states." This is obviously not an argument by itself, and Wikipedia does not give a source. I suspect this is an after-the-fact argument intended to support the status quo, for the sake of those who have found that they benefit from it.

In both systems, the popular vote can be thwarted voters of one persuasion are concentrated in a relatively small number of districts, leaving a greater number of districts to vote the other way. In theory, this protects the needs of rural areas from being ignored by urban voters; in practice, it has meant that high-density areas with better infrastructure and better-informed voters tend to be outvoted by those in areas with poorer educational and informational systems.

This leads to a system where the way to win an election is not to use evidence and reason to convince an educated votership of one's position, but instead to use manipulative tools, rhetoric, and disinformation to sway the misinformed majority.

This phenomenon has intensified in the age of mass-media, intensified further as media ownership regulations have become more and more lax, allowing increased media consolidation), and intensified still further by the Citizens United decision; it seems now unarguable that the powerful have more or less direct (though not perfect) control of most election outcomes in the US.

To put the nail in the coffin: every problem that James Madison expected to prevent with the Electoral College system has now come to pass. It's time to rethink those arguments.

Madison was afraid that groups of people -- "factions" -- would gang together to exploit the majority. He may have only been concerned about rationally self-interested actors abusing democratic freedoms, but his fears have since then been taken up by others who argue that people are irrational, and need moderation -- preferably the guiding hand of a wise ruler. Having gotten that far, of course, it becomes the wise ruler's job to help guide the people towards selecting the next wise ruler.

Democratic institutions being what they are (and by now being inconveniently but firmly entrenched in the passionate public's mind as the way things are done), the wise ruler cannot simply appoint a worthy successor; ways must be found to influence people to make the right choice while staying within the democratic framework. So the ruling party gerrymanders a district, bends their ideology to be better aligned with the moneyed interests, changes a rule to allow larger donations next time... and here we are.

New Ways

The history of collaboration shows an increasing trend towards symmetrical, decentralized interaction, with the number of bureaucracy-hours per usage-hour asymptotically approaching zero.

Mass collaboration projects like Wikipedia are able to exceed the effectiveness of staid institutions such as the Encyclopedia Britannica -- delivering content that is both comparably accurate and far more comprehensive, with no access fee -- using relatively shallow hierarchies and almost no interposition of bureaucracy between the end-user and the system. Email is delivered for free, typically in under a minute, without ever passing through a central sorting facility or being examined by a human anywhere in between sender and destination.

Individuals using decentralized collaborative tools put out a forest fire in Russia, carried out revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt.

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1. I'm stretching the word "corrupt" here to include the idea of replacing a non-corrupt person with someone who is corrupt via otherwise-legitimate succession processes; it's not necessary to posit that good people can turn bad. Maybe the way to talk about it is to refer to the position or role becoming corrupted.